A federal jury has found a Sarasota insurance agent and financial consultant guilty of defrauding elderly Floridians out of $6 million, money that the victims believed was going to fund a life insurance startup known as FastLife.
Phillip Roy Wasserman, 66, who is also a former lawyer, was convicted of wire fraud and mail fraud charges in the long-running deceit, which prosecutors said worked like a Ponzi scheme. At one point, the FastLife venture hired baseball legend Pete Rose and country music star Billy Ray Cyrus to advertise the rapid-quote insurance product on radio and television, and it grew rapidly in the years before it was investigated.
Instead of using the victims’ money to invest in the FastLife product, Wasserman used much of it to purchase a home, a beach house, Tampa Bay Lightning hockey season tickets, his own insurance coverage, and other personal items, according to the U.S. Attorney and the 2020 indictment.
In an interview with Insurance Journal Tuesday, Wasserman said he did not use the money for personal gain and offered an accounting report that he said confirms that. He argued that the prosecution was politically motivated and resulted from his years of advocating publicly for annuities to be classed as non-securities. He also was known for Florida Bar disciplinary actions in the 1990s, in which he was accused of calling a judge a “crook.”
“It doesn’t pay to have a big mouth,” Wasserman said. He plans to appeal the conviction.
Co-defendant Kenneth Rossman, also an insurance agent and a certified public accountant in Bradenton, pleaded guilty in 2021. His sentencing is set for June 8.
The FastLife product was described on Wasserman’s Linkedin page as a “crazy fast” way for people to purchase life insurance from “highly rated insurance companies.” Investors in the startup were guaranteed an annual return of 10% to 12%.
But prosecutors and the jury said it was mostly a scam.
“Some victim-investors were persuaded to liquidate traditional investments such as annuities and/or to borrow funds against existing life insurance policies to generate cash to invest in the venture,” U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg said in a press release. “These victim-investors were not told about surrender fees and other costs associated with said liquidations, or about negative personal tax consequences resulting from liquidations.”
Wasserman paid Rossman a percentage of the investments as compensation for his role in the conspiracy. Wasserman also used the money to pay earlier investors in the FastLife venture, and to pay creditors, prosecutors said.
Wasserman, who called himself the “King of Annuities” and a top trainer of insurance agents, also took steps to evade more than $900,000 in federal income taxes and attempted to persuade witnesses and victims to avoid cooperating with investigators, Handberg said. Wasserman failed to inform the investors that he and Rossman had numerous outstanding tax liens and civil judgments against them related to previous investment programs, as well as unpaid loans, evictions for unpaid rent, large amounts of business debt, and that he was paying himself “an extravagant amount of compensation” – more than $35,000 a month, the indictment reads.
Wasserman represented himself in part of the criminal proceedings. He now faces a separate trial on the federal tax evasion charges.
The man, who has written a book about annuities, also failed to pay fully for the services of the celebrities he hired to pitch the insurance product, the indictment noted. He also hired insurance sales agents and office staff but did not pay them in full.
Wasserman, now out on bond awaiting sentencing, could face years in prison and must forfeit $6.3 million. Handberg and the indictment did not indicate how the fraud came to light, but said it was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service and the Florida Office of Financial Regulation.
Wasserman said his troubles began in the early 2000s, when he helped lead the charge against the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Rule 151A, which classed fixed-index annuities as securities. That would have required sales agents to have securities licenses as well as insurance licenses. A federal court ordered the SEC to reconsider the rule, and the agency withdrew it in 2010.
The 303-page CPA report that Wasserman said exonerated him was produced by a New Jersey accounting firm in February of this year. It concluded that he was entitled to at least $1 million in compensation from the FastLife program. The report notes that the accountants relied on information provided by Wasserman and his attorney, and did not have access to some bank records.
Prosecutor Handberg said in his news release that the report was an effort to thwart the prosecution. “Wasserman falsely and fraudulently represented that he had an audit from a highly regarded financial services firm that would show neither he nor FastLife had committed any wrongdoing,” the statement said.
Wasserman said Handberg was mistaken. “Why would I have a forensic accounting report done if I though I was guilty?” he asked.
The Florida Department of Financial Services agent look-up site shows that Rossman and Wasserman had been appointed through the years with multiple life insurance companies. Their licenses have been suspended, but the date of suspension is not shown.
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